Belfast Telegraph

Unionists vote down bid to celebrate Pride 2019 with town hall lights

By Lauren Harte

A new row has erupted within a Northern Ireland council over plans to light up its civic buildings in the colours of the rainbow to mark Pride 2019.

The Sinn Fein proposal was tabled at the monthly meeting of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.

It asked that Craigavon Civic Centre, as well as Banbridge Town Hall, be lit up in the colours of the rainbow.

However, unionist councillors voted down the motion, which would also have resulted in a council presence at the annual Belfast Pride Parade in August.

Members of the DUP and Ulster Unionists rejected the plan and said they would not be taking lectures on equality from Sinn Fein.

Last August, Sinn Fein spearheaded an attempt to fly rainbow flags on the council's premises to show support to LGBTQ+ citizens during Pride.

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon was set to make history by becoming the first council in Northern Ireland to fly the Pride flag above its three civic buildings.

But the DUP invoked the 'call-in' mechanism, which allows decisions to be reconsidered if at least 15% of councillors request it.

The DUP said strict procedures on flying flags and emblems hadn't been followed properly.

The council then sought legal advice, which both the DUP and Sinn Fein claimed justified their stance. The row meant Pride Day last August passed without the flags in place.

Sinn Fein council group leader Darren McNally told the Ulster Gazette newspaper it was disappointing but not surprising that both unionist parties had voted against lighting up the civic buildings.

He said: "We have a diverse community and the onus is on us to ensure we not only represent minority groups such as our LGBT community but that we make them feel valued, included, welcome and safe.

"Lighting up the civic buildings on Pride Day and an official presence at the parade is a forward-moving gesture - small but significant - which would send out a clear message that ABC council are here for our LGBT community at a time when they are subject to hate attacks and left feeling isolated.

"In amending our original motion of the flying of the Pride flag, we were recognising that some parties are on a journey with regards to this particular issue. Other unionist councillors have supported similar motions in other councils."

However, UUP councillor Jim Speers hit out at what he called the "mischievous" motion.

He said: "Sinn Fein's actions go counter to the good working relationships we need at ABC Council.

"They are the last party that should be giving lectures on the need for equality. For a party which was linked to an organisation which terrorised this community for over 40 years to be talking about equality is disgusting."

The DUP's Gareth Wilson accused Sinn Fein of "blatant electioneering". He added: "Given the various and well publicised anti-DUP messages associated with the event in question, our party grouping decided unanimously to decline support for this latest Sinn Fein motion."

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